SH celebrates Homecoming with overtime defeat of Elmira

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home’s football team reached a turning point in its season Friday night where the Huskies had to decide who they were.

Trailing visiting Elmira 7-0 midway through the third quarter in what had been a largely defensive struggle punctuated by ill-timed penalties on the part of the Huskies, it was do-or-die time.

So they did.

It was a hard-fought contest from the beginning. Still stinging from a slow start against Junction City last week that appeared to ultimately cost them the game, Sweet Home played tough against the Falcons’ tricky double wing-style offense from the first play, forcing Elmira to cough up the ball on three fumbles in the first half, including its first two possessions.

“I think we put a lot more effort into this game,” said defensive lineman George Rayborn. “Definitely. The last game was bad. We did shut (Junction City) out the second half, ‘cause that’s when we brought it. We brought it all four quarters this game and that’s why we won.”

But it wasn’t easy for Sweet Home, whose offense was stymied all night by momentum-killing penalties.

The Huskies ended with 11 penalties for 100 yards, while rolling up a total of 253 yards on offense, 140 of those from running back Brandon Keenon on 25 carries. Their defense held the Falcons to 194 yards.

“The defense did an excellent job of keeping us in the ball game,” Head Coach Dustin Nichol said. “Elmira is a big, talented football team.”

Sweet Home recovered three fumbles in the first half, and Nichol said it wasn’t inability to hang onto the ball by the Falcons.

“I don’t think it was Elmira guys making mistakes,” he said. “Our defense was in their face, stripping the ball. We were causing fits for Elmira.”

Sweet Home got off to a rough start offensively as its first possession ended when quarterback Justin Tow’s first pass was picked off by the Falcons’ Nick Boykin. Though the Huskies got the ball back two plays later when Ryan R. Adams recovered one of Elmira’s fumbles, neither team had a series of more than eight plays until Elmira ran off 16 in a row to end the half, driving to the Sweet Home 5, where the Husky defense held and the Falcons had their own ill-timed penalty, an illegal procedure call on third down that set them back and Sweet Home held the line again to take over on downs on the four-yard line with one play left, so they took a knee.

With the first half ending in goose eggs on the scoreboard, the teams got some extra time in the locker room as Sweet Home held its Homecoming celebration.

They picked up in the fourth quarter where they’d left off, the Huskies still unable to break a big one or keep a consistent series going against the tough Falcons defense. But Elmira didn’t do itself any favors, fumbling on its first play, with Sweet Home’s Ryan R. Adams coming up with the ball to give his team a second chance. This time the Huskies drove from their 49 to the Falcons’ 38, where Justin Tow’s pass was intercepted by Chad Estrella, who ran it all the way back for the first score of the game. Though Estrella was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating on the way to the end zone, Elmira led 7-0 with 6:52 to play in the third quarter.

But that triggered the Huskies’ offense, particularly Hunter Jutte. The senior wide receiver ran the kickoff back, fighting off several tackles, to the Elmira 48 in a display of determination and then, a few plays later, after another holding call set Sweet Home back 10 yards, Tow found Jutte on fourth-and-seven with a 27-yard pass at the 1 and Keenon ran it in on the next play for a touchdown. Jutte’s kick evened the score with 2:02 left in the quarter.

Jutte said the intensity was up Friday all the way around.

“We knew coming off Junction City last week that we were going to have to fight,” he said. “Coach got on us and we got on ourselves for that JC loss. We knew we were lackadaisical. We just had each other’s backs tonight and made plays and we knew what we had to do.”

That’s when the Sweet Home defense really clamped down on the Falcons, whose longest drive for the rest of regulation lasted six plays and went 24 yards.

Tied 7-7 at the buzzer, Elmira took over at the 25-yard line in overtime and lasted four plays and went eight plays against tough Husky D, the key play coming on third down when Rayborn made his second big stop of the night, shooting through a gap and laying running back Zack Fox, who had rolled up 95 yards against the Huskies, out with a crushing tackle for loss in the backfield.

“ I was pretty hungry to win. I was just running, adrenaline super high,” said Rayborn, clearly still feeling the rush after the game. “I just got through and I hit somebody and I figured, ‘Hey, if this is the guy with the ball, I’ll just wrap him up. I took him down and it was. It was.”

The Falcons’ Devin Vestal, who earlier had put a kickoff into the end zone and salvaged a bad snap on their lone extra point attempt, kicked wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt on fourth down to end that threat for Sweet Home.

The Huskies took over on the 25 and Keenon fired off a 10-yard scramble for a first down, then slashed in from the eight yard line for the game-winning score.

Nichol said Keenon and Ryan J. Adams, who showed some rushing skills Friday with 29 yards on eight carries to spell Keenon, were key to the offensive success, while Rayborn and Cole Ashcraft were particular standouts on defense, particularly in the goal line stand at the end of the second period.

Rayborn “twice got under the pads of the offensive linemen and stood them up so their heads were a foot and a half above everybody else’s and got into the backfield where he caused havoc,” Nichol said. “He was a gamer on defense. Cole had a huge tackle when they tried to run off-tackle. He just drilled the guy and set him back.”

Adams, who didn’t play football his junior year, said he is glad to be back on the field.

“This year I’m a senior and I’m just coming out and giving my all,” he said. “Coach let me get in one play (at running back) and I got seven yards, so he kept me in.”

Sweet Home will face Sutherlin Friday at 7 p.m. in the Huskies’ final regular-season home game before they take to the road for a show-down at Sisters, which is currently leading the league with a 3-0 record after beating visiting Junction City 21-14.

Sutherlin, which last visited Sweet Home in 2012, losing 47-29, lost 33-7 Friday night to visiting Cottage Grove, which won its first game of the season. The Bulldogs are winless in league and 1-5 overall, which makes them dangerous, Nichol said, particularly considering his team’s tendency this year go get off to slow starts in games.

“Sutherlin poses a whole other challenge in and of itself,” he said. “They’re 0-3, their record is not too good. It’s easy to overlook these guys. But Junction City went in last Friday and got beat by Sisters.

Junction City was thinking, ‘We just played two the toughest teams, Sweet Home and Elmira.’ They overlooked Sisters and it came back to bite them.

“Sisters is a young team that’s improving week to week. That is a formula for disaster. That’s us this week if we overlook Sutherlin – we’re in trouble.”

Nichol said he’s puzzled by his team’s propensity for slow starts and said he’s convinced there’s a corollary to the four-day school week besides the fact that Sweet Home athletes have less practice time than the rest of the league due to the longer school days.

“I kind of think some of this is due to us having Friday’s off,” he said. “I get the kids up and take them to breakfast, but then they go back to bed. Here they are, they haven’t been up, their brain hasn’t been stimulated, they ride a bus and hour or two, and it takes them half the game to get going.”

With Sweet Home and Junction City tied for second at 2-1 behind the Outlaws, if the Huskies win Friday and then can beat Sisters on the road, assuming that Junction City beats Cottage Grove and Sisters gets by Elmira on the road this week, the league championship would come down to a three-way tie between the Sweet Home and the Tigers and Outlaws.

“I tell the kids each week is a league championship,” Nichol said. “If Junction City wins out and we beat Sisters, it’s a three-way tie for first place. It’s a coin toss.”

Game Summary

Sweet Home 0 0 7 0 6 – 13

Elmira 0 0 7 0 0 – 7

Third Quarter

E – Chad Estrella 45 interception return. Devin Vestal kick.

SH – Brandon Keenon 5 run. Hunter Jutte kick


SH – Brandon Keenon 5 run.

Individual Statistics

Rushing – SH: Brandon Keenon 25-140; Ryan J. Adams 8-29; Hunter Jutte 2-22; Justin Tow 4-0. Elmira: Zach Fox 23-95; Nick Boykin 8-53; Chad Estrella 5-13; Gray Younce 2-7; Mikey Langner 2-8.

Passing – SH: Justin Tow 6-18-2-62. E: Mikey Langner 1-5-0-24.

Receiving – SH: Eric Flierl 2-40; Hunter Jutte 1-26; Brandon Keenon 1- (-9); Brycen Mitten 1-6; Kyler Gaskey 1- (-1). E: Drew Pedder 1-24.